Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Anniversary of a naval battle. And an arms race

It was an arms race with no winners but plenty of losers.

One hundred years ago today, the British Royal Navy, supported by Australian and Canadian ships, came to blows with the German Empire’s High Seas Fleet in the North Sea. The moment is being marked by ceremonies around Britain today, commemorating what in this country at least is called the Battle of Jutland.

On the British side, it cost a little over 6000 lives, on the German just over 2500.

Its outcome? At best a stalemate. Getting on for 9000 lives for minimal achievement.The German fleet never challenged the Royal Navy again, and it was prevented gaining access to the Atlantic. It wasn’t, however, destroyed as a fighting force and the British had to keep it bottled up for the rest of the First World War.

HMS Invincible discovering she was sadly vincible
The battle was the culmination of a naval arms race between the two powers. Throughout the nineteenth century, Britain had wielded the most powerful naval force in the world; the emerging power, Germany, wanted to close the gap and come up to at least 2/3 of British strength. In the first decade or so of the twentieth century, there was a frenzy to build more ships, embodied by no one so fully as by German Admiral Tirpitz and eventually the man who became First Lord of the Admiralty in Britain, Winston Churchill. The excitement even infected the wider population – “we want eight and we won’t wait” was a popular slogan in Britain, referring to the number of Dreadnoughts, the newest and deadliest battleships, the country felt the Royal Navy should have.

In the end, the cost of the race was ruinous. And the results, as both sides discovered a century ago today, was inconclusive. An arms race cost a fortune and produced little, though at least it gave employment to shipyard workers. One can’t help feeling they might have been better employed elsewhere.

Roll on a hundred years, and isn’t “make America great again” the expression of just the same desires as “we want eight and we won’t wait”?

What’s changed is that, if we thought the naval arms race was unaffordable, today’s equivalent is far more costly still. When it comes to nuclear weapons, and all the other toys the military want with them – drones and the latest generations of aircraft and ships , the prices have become nothing short of eye-watering.

What stays strictly the same, however, is that if ever they came to be used, the result would be just as inconclusive. Many losers, no winners. And, sadly, if the showdown turned nuclear, there’d be far more dead than 9000.

With little likelihood of anyone being around to celebrate the centenary.


Mark said...

... interesting.
Maybe the idea of big bloodthirsty nuclear wars is something of the past, with the alternative of leaving populations to rot and decay in some suffucated economy.
Kill the queen of the beehive, and you have a dead beehive.

David Beeson said...

I wish that were so. We (literally) killed Saddam Hussein but far from silencing the beehive, we stirred it up – and worse still, discovered it wasn't a beehive at all, but a wasps' nest.

Mark said...

Excellent reply ! :-)